Any person who has struggled with fertility is familiar with terms like “luteal phase defect”, “premature ovarian failure”, “polycystic ovarian syndrome” and “unexplained fertility”. Not many are familiar with “Liver Qi stagnation” or “Kidney Yang deficiency”. But these terms may be the key to your fertility struggle and may be the diagnosis that unlocks your body’s imbalance and allows for pregnancy to occur.
The Diagnosis of Infertility with TCM
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views health as a state of balance between all of the systems of the body. In terms of fertility there are four organ systems – Kidney, Spleen, Heart and Liver that, when unbalanced, can lead to infertility.
In addition to the organ systems, there are four vital substances – Yin, Yang, Qi and Blood that can become deficient, excessive or stagnant and create a state of unbalance that may manifest as infertility.
All TCM treatments for fertility are founded upon restoring balance and health to these organ systems and vital substances.
Common TCM Diagnoses for Infertility
TCM diagnoses are made by Naturopathic Doctors after a thorough physical examination and comprehensive intake. Naturopaths who use TCM in the treatment of fertility will also look at your tongue and take your TCM pulses to both diagnose your TCM pattern and to monitor treatment.
The terminology used in TCM diagnosis may be unfamiliar to you. They are a different way of looking at patterns in your body. While Western medicine may say you have low progesterone, a TCM diagnosis may say you are lacking in Kidney Yang. It’s a different way of saying similar things – a different perspective on your health and fertility.
While a comprehensive intake is necessary for proper diagnosis, some of the most common TCM imbalances leading to infertility are:
Liver Qi Stagnation
The movement of Qi through the Liver is necessary for both ovulation and menstruation to occur.
Women with Liver Qi stagnation often experience symptoms of imbalance both at ovulation (bloating, irritability, breast tenderness) and at menstruation (premenstrual breast tenderness, irritability, anger, painful periods).
This pattern is often seen in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and in women with long menstrual cycles.
Spleen Qi Deficiency
In TCM Spleen Qi manages the second half of the menstrual cycle (the luteal phase). Together with the Kidney Yang, the Spleen Qi allows for buildup of the endometrial lining and supports progesterone production.
Women with Spleen Qi deficiency typically have low energy, cravings for sugar or breads, poor circulation and may experience spotting before their periods, menstrual cramps and fatigue during their periods.
A Spleen Qi deficiency pattern is common in women with luteal phase defect.
Kidney Yang works together with the Spleen Qi to control the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Kidney Yang supports the production of progesterone and maintains an elevated body temperature after ovulation.
Women with Kidney Yang deficiency experience symptoms of coldness – cold feet or hands or an intolerance to cold. They may have menstrual cramps that feel better with use of a heating pad.
Kidney Yang deficiency often occurs with a Spleen Qi deficiency and is common in women with a luteal phase defect and in women with a prolonged follicular phase or long menstrual cycle (greater than 30 days).
Kidney Yin Deficiency
While Kidney Yang and Spleen Qi control the luteal phase, Kidney Yin controls the follicular phase (the first half of the menstrual cycle, while the egg is developing prior to ovulation). Kidney Yin also controls production of cervical mucus and opening of the cervix during ovulation.
Women with Kidney Yin deficiency may experience night sweats, hot flashes and have little or no midcycle cervical mucus. They may not experience any significant symptoms around their period.
Kidney Yin deficiency often occurs with shortened follicular phases, prolonged follicular phases and in elevated FSH and low estrogen states. Amenorrhea (absence of menses) is also often indicative of a Kidney Yin deficiency.
There are many other TCM imbalances that can contribute to infertility. The ones listed above are by far the most common but other imbalances may include:
- Blood stasis
- Blood deficiency
- Heart deficiency
- Excess Heat
Treating a TCM Imbalance
Once you have received a TCM diagnosis from your Naturopathic Doctor you embark on a journey of rebalancing your body to support your fertility. Whether you are using natural therapies exclusively, or working with a reproductive endocrinologist or assisted reproductive therapies (IVF or IUI) you can begin making changes to balance your systems and improve your chances of pregnancy.
Step One: Appropriate diagnosis of imbalances and develop a plan for harmonizing your systems and balancing your energy
Step Two: Lifestyle and dietary changes to support balance in your systems. In TCM certain foods and activities have specific properties. You can use food, exercise, relaxation techniques, yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and more to increase energy to your Kidneys, boost your Spleen Qi or clear Liver stagnation.
Step Three: Balance the energetic meridians through acupuncture. A series of acupuncture sessions can balance the organ systems and support smooth flow of Blood and Qi to the reproductive organs and throughout the body.
Step Four: Correct imbalances and increase chances of pregnancy through herbs. Herbs are natural energetic substances that can gently and effectively correct imbalances and optimize fertility.
If you have been struggling with infertility and are interested in another approach, a Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis may be a good place for you to start. Bring balance back to your body and book an appointment with a Naturopathic Doctor who is knowledgeable about TCM in fertility today.
For further reading, I highly recommend The Infertility Cure by Dr. Randine Lewis. A fantastic overview of the TCM approach to fertility with sections on each of the imbalances associated with fertility.
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.